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'90S FAMILY | FIRST PERSON

Yes, She Lost a Lot in the Divorce, but She Gained So Much More

March 30, 1997|KARIN DOMINELLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's over. After more than a year of arguments, anger, anguish, tears and lots (lots) of second-guessing, my marriage of 18 years ended last month.

In difficult negotiating, rather than split my 401(k) retirement funds, I lost everything else. I lost my little yellow house with its blue shutters, my pretty pine bedroom set, the honey-colored oak dining set with sheaf-back chairs, my dishes, utensils, pots and pans, blankets, towels, picture frames, Eureka vacuum cleaner, patio furniture, potted flowers, bags of fertilizer, the nectarine tree I planted, packages of seeds, hand tools, nails, paintbrushes, bicycle pump and beach umbrella. Over the many years it took to acquire all this, each item and its corresponding memory or story were left behind in a flash.

But I wouldn't trade this grocery list of possessions for the sense of peace that has finally cloaked my tired spirit. Now that the divorce and its cold, cruel legalities are final, and my emotions and attentions are no longer so frayed, it is as if someone hit the restart button on my synapses.

My five senses have suddenly intensified. Colors look dazzling; food tastes delicious; scents smell wonderful; silk and flannel, cool water and warm hands feel good to my skin; and the voices of the people I love sound like music.

*

And with this reawakening comes gratitude for a new start--and for the houseful of worn-out, castoff possessions I so easily acquired in the whirlwind course of about a month. Many items were generously donated by helpful, concerned friends. Others were found on the side of the street with "Take Me" signs attached to them.

In the living room, my only lamp's base is chipped and rests--rather precariously--upright on a block of wood. Afghans cover the worn upholstery on the small piece of sectional couch I found (who knows what became of the rest of it), and a blue woven shawl disguises a rather ugly rocking chair. My beloved books, which used to rest on solid oak shelves, now are roughing it on my new bookshelves of stacked bricks and plywood--home, sweet dorm.

The dining room set is a round coffee table (a hand-me-down) with four pillows around it that I handpicked out of an apartment building dumpster. I washed and resewed the covers, and my daughters and I kneel on them like a Japanese family. None of the dishes or silverware match. Neither do the place mats nor the cloth napkins inherited from several sources.

My girls, who divide their time evenly now between two houses just a block apart, have beds that are hand-me-down frameless mattresses and box springs. I covered the warm but stained garage-sale comforters with new cotton duvets, and the girls hung up their posters and school artwork and set up their critter cages to complete their bedroom.

There is joy in this mishmash of throwaways. These possessions have stories, but they are not mine. There's no emotional attachment; I could toss them as easily as I found them. There's a freedom in that. And it's all I need right now.

*

It's the strangest feeling: I'm in debt up to my earlobes with lawyer fees and now must struggle weekly to live within the confines of a single-income household. I've lost everything I ever bought in the past 18 years. Yet I feel rich.

This is not just Pollyanna prisms-and-glad-games sentiment. I'm beginning to understand how regaining control in one's life offers a wealth beyond measure.

I see choices, possibilities. I can dance in the street, sing at the market, burp in a restaurant, giggle in church, eat chocolate in bed. I can leave dishes in the sink for two days. I can acquire brand-new possessions--or not. They seem so unimportant at this point.

I can save pennies found on the ground, hoard soap slivers and mold them into one bar and eat peanut butter on day-old thrift store bread in one moment, and, in the next, splurge guiltlessly on a weekend trip to the mountains to play with my girls in the snow.

I'm nearly giddy with anticipation about what direction to take my life. I can travel to any country, learn any language, join any club, or try on a new philosophy as the spirit moves me. I can think my own thoughts and then bounce them safely off close friends. I can choose new friends to fortify my spirit, wounded by the loss of many longtime mutual friends who took sides and never looked back to hear my story.

It's really not so awful losing so much. My spirit has just landed a windfall.

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